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Virtual Environments and Packages

12.1. Introduction
Python applications will often use packages and modules that don’t come as part of the
standard library. Applications will sometimes need a specific version of a library,
because the application may require that a particular bug has been fixed or the
application may be written using an obsolete version of the library’s interface.

This means it may not be possible for one Python installation to meet the requirements
of every application. If application A needs version 1.0 of a particular module but
application B needs version 2.0, then the requirements are in conflict and installing
either version 1.0 or 2.0 will leave one application unable to run.

The solution for this problem is to create a virtual environment, a self-contained

directory tree that contains a Python installation for a particular version of Python, plus a
number of additional packages.

Different applications can then use different virtual environments. To resolve the earlier
example of conflicting requirements, application A can have its own virtual environment
with version 1.0 installed while application B has another virtual environment with
version 2.0. If application B requires a library be upgraded to version 3.0, this will not
affect application A’s environment.

12.2. Creating Virtual Environments

The module used to create and manage virtual environments is called venv. venv will
usually install the most recent version of Python that you have available. If you have
multiple versions of Python on your system, you can select a specific Python version by
running python3 or whichever version you want.

To create a virtual environment, decide upon a directory where you want to place it, and
run the venv module as a script with the directory path:

python3 -m venv tutorial-env

This will create the tutorial-env directory if it doesn’t exist, and also create
directories inside it containing a copy of the Python interpreter, the standard library, and
various supporting files.
A common directory location for a virtual environment is .venv. This name keeps the
directory typically hidden in your shell and thus out of the way while giving it a name that
explains why the directory exists. It also prevents clashing with .env environment
variable definition files that some tooling supports.

Once you’ve created a virtual environment, you may activate it.

On Windows, run:


On Unix or MacOS, run:

source tutorial-env/bin/activate

(This script is written for the bash shell. If you use the csh or fish shells, there are
alternate activate.csh and activate.fish scripts you should use instead.)

Activating the virtual environment will change your shell’s prompt to show what virtual
environment you’re using, and modify the environment so that running python will get
you that particular version and installation of Python. For example:

$ source ~/envs/tutorial-env/bin/activate
(tutorial-env) $ python
Python 3.5.1 (default, May 6 2016, 10:59:36)
>>> import sys
>>> sys.path
['', '/usr/local/lib/python35.zip', ...,

12.3. Managing Packages with pip

You can install, upgrade, and remove packages using a program called pip. By
default pip will install packages from the Python Package Index, <https://pypi.org>. You
can browse the Python Package Index by going to it in your web browser, or you can
use pip’s limited search feature:

(tutorial-env) $ pip search astronomy

skyfield - Elegant astronomy for Python
gary - Galactic astronomy and gravitational
novas - The United States Naval Observatory NOVAS
astronomy library
astroobs - Provides astronomy ephemeris to plan
telescope observations
PyAstronomy - A collection of astronomy related tools
for Python.

pip has a number of subcommands: “search”, “install”, “uninstall”, “freeze”, etc.

(Consult the Installing Python Modules guide for complete documentation for pip.)

You can install the latest version of a package by specifying a package’s name:

(tutorial-env) $ python -m pip install novas

Collecting novas
Downloading novas- (136kB)
Installing collected packages: novas
Running setup.py install for novas
Successfully installed novas-

You can also install a specific version of a package by giving the package name
followed by == and the version number:

(tutorial-env) $ python -m pip install requests==2.6.0

Collecting requests==2.6.0
Using cached requests-2.6.0-py2.py3-none-any.whl
Installing collected packages: requests
Successfully installed requests-2.6.0

If you re-run this command, pip will notice that the requested version is already
installed and do nothing. You can supply a different version number to get that version,
or you can run pip install --upgrade to upgrade the package to the latest version:

(tutorial-env) $ python -m pip install --upgrade requests

Collecting requests
Installing collected packages: requests
Found existing installation: requests 2.6.0
Uninstalling requests-2.6.0:
Successfully uninstalled requests-2.6.0
Successfully installed requests-2.7.0
pip uninstall followed by one or more package names will remove the packages
from the virtual environment.

pip show will display information about a particular package:

(tutorial-env) $ pip show requests

Metadata-Version: 2.0
Name: requests
Version: 2.7.0
Summary: Python HTTP for Humans.
Home-page: http://python-requests.org
Author: Kenneth Reitz
Author-email: me@kennethreitz.com
License: Apache 2.0
Location: /Users/akuchling/envs/tutorial-env/lib/python3.4/site-

pip list will display all of the packages installed in the virtual environment:

(tutorial-env) $ pip list

novas (
numpy (1.9.2)
pip (7.0.3)
requests (2.7.0)
setuptools (16.0)

pip freeze will produce a similar list of the installed packages, but the output uses the
format that pip installexpects. A common convention is to put this list in
a requirements.txt file:

(tutorial-env) $ pip freeze > requirements.txt

(tutorial-env) $ cat requirements.txt

The requirements.txt can then be committed to version control and shipped as part
of an application. Users can then install all the necessary packages with install -r:

(tutorial-env) $ python -m pip install -r requirements.txt

Collecting novas== (from -r requirements.txt (line 1))
Collecting numpy==1.9.2 (from -r requirements.txt (line 2))
Collecting requests==2.7.0 (from -r requirements.txt (line 3))
Installing collected packages: novas, numpy, requests
Running setup.py install for novas
Successfully installed novas- numpy-1.9.2 requests-2.7.0

pip has many more options. Consult the Installing Python Modules guide for complete
documentation for pip. When you’ve written a package and want to make it available
on the Python Package Index, consult the Distributing Python Modules guide.